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Activist Ellen Goldner assumes JSDD presidency
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Activist Ellen Goldner assumes JSDD presidency

New, larger facility first on list of tasks at social service agency

For decades, Ellen Goldner has been an active leader on behalf of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, its predecessors, and other community causes.

Now in a new role, she is determined to burst open the “best-kept” secret of the organization she has been chosen to lead.

On July 1, she will become president of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled (JSDD). In its mission statement, the agency says it is dedicating to providing “an integrated program of community education, advocacy, and services” designed “to maximize the potential of individuals with developmental disabilities and opportunities for their integration into the Jewish and general communities.”

Established in 1984 as a commission by United Jewish Federation of MetroWest (a federation forerunner), within 12 years JSDD became a full-service agency incorporated in the state as a not-for-profit social service provider.

It receives funding from an array of philanthropic and governmental entities, including federation; donations to funds managed by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ provide additional support.

Goldner has been a hard-working member of the JSDD board, according  to Linda Press, the agency’s executive director, and “has been such an incredible advocate; once she takes something on she becomes really committed. We need somebody who takes these things seriously, and that’s what she does.”

Goldner’s dedication has been applied to a host of roles at federation. She served as campaign chair and president of Women’s Department, which, under her leadership, was a founding partner of the Rachel Coalition, and she was founding president of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life. She chaired the UJA Campaign and was the first woman to hold the position of president (2002-05) at the MetroWest federation. 

In 2016, Goldner was the local recipient of the National Women’s Philanthropy’s’ Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, which recognizes women who have set a high standard of philanthropy and volunteerism in their community. 

Press and Goldner spoke to NJJN at JSDD headquarters on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange. The location of the meeting sparked discussion of a major project that will be on the new president’s agenda. “JSDD is currently involved in a capital campaign for a new building” on Eisenhower Parkway at the Route 10 traffic circle in Livingston, said Goldner. That there is a pressing need for updating and expansion is, she said, “our best-kept secret — we are busting out of space for our clients.” 

The agency also operates 11 residential sites — group homes, supervised apartments, and supportive living arrangements — for adults. “We currently have 40 residential clients, ranging in age from 21 to 85, who need supervision and support,” said Goldner. The houses are in Maplewood, Millburn, West Orange, Livingston, Verona (2), West Caldwell (2), Whippany, Parsippany, and Summit. Another challenge on her plate are the “two additional residential sites that are in development.” 

At the same location as JSDD headquarters is its Wae (Wellness, Arts, Enrichment) Center, which describes itself as a “holistic” learning program for individuals with developmental disabilities. One reason more space is needed, said Goldner, is to display and house the abundance of “paintings, sculptures, and photography the Wae Center clients create and all the handicrafts they have made.” 

The agency’s current home, said Press, “has no place to showcase…such incredible artwork. But at our new building, we will have thousands of people pass by on a daily basis.” The facility will have a dedicated art gallery, Press added, and Wae Center exhibits “will be going out on loan all the time.”

Goldner is especially pleased that the new building will provide a means for welcoming more members of the community to familiarize them with the work of the JSDD and the Wae Center. Their new home, she said, “will have the capacity to accommodate 100 guests — 40 more than the current space.” The larger facility will also allow for expanding the current roster of evening classes and allow the offering of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. 

To aid in the effort to introduce more community members to the work and staff of JSDD and the Wae Center, an Open House Picnic will be held on Tuesday, June 26 (see box).

To meet that goal of a spacious new home for JSDD and the Wae Center, said Goldner, “we needed to raise $5 million to put a shovel in the ground. Now we have raised another $2 million as an endowment.”

With such ambitious plans ahead, said Press, “the trick is to keep our past presidents involved beyond their terms.” 

“It’s a life sentence,” Goldner quipped.

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